I received complimentary product from Shrimp & Grits Kids to facilitate this post. As always, opinions remain 100% my own.
I will never forget our very first family photo shoot. A friend is an amazing photographer, and to build his newborn photography portfolio, offered to do a family photo shoot for us when our oldest was born. I had the perfect outfits picked out for all three of us, timed the shoot to fit around her delicate newborn feeding schedule, and even managed to shower and dry my hair! We were all ready to go when Big M blew out her diaper, through her outfit and my husband’s shirt as the doorbell rang and the photographer arrived.
A few more newborn photo sessions and rounds of picture days at school since has taught me one thing… no one else can capture your kids’ personalities quite like you can. And with a few simple tips – no matter your level of photography expertise – you can take your own family photos, at any special occasion or place, that you will love as much or more than the ones by the pros!
8 Tips to a DIY Family Photo Shoot Like a Pro
You don’t have to be a professional photographer – or even have a fancy camera – to take high quality family photos. You can save a ton of money, and more importantly, capture great family moments during any occasion, with a few family photo shoot basics. These are applicable whether you want to style a formal family photo shoot to take portraits, or capture candid moments among family at your child’s birthday party or family holiday gathering.
When I was little, my mom used to dress my sister and I in matching dresses every Christmas and Easter, and we wore those dresses for every occasion that whole season. As we got older, we fought it more and more – but when I look back at family photos, I love that she did it. It adds a touch of unity and polish to candid family photos that jeans and a t-shirt don’t quite pull off.
For each season, try to get the kids outfits that coordinate – be it through color scheme or style – to wear for family photos and special occasions. Choose color palettes that work across genders (I’m partial to blues and navy), and pop against busy backgrounds. Avoid overly busy patterns. Shrimp and Grits Kids is my go-to favorite for this. Their kids clothing is classic, without being overly formal, and high quality, yet still affordable. Every season they have coordinating collections of dresses and separates, for boys and girls, giving me a one stop shop to outfit all 3 kids. For more tips on choosing your family photo shoot looks, check out these tips from Wunder Mom for outfitting a large family for special occasions.
It’s all about the light
Lighting is the single most important factor to any family photo shoot. Whether you are aiming for portraits or candid photos, you need good natural light to capture the best photos. The best family photo shoot happens outside, on a cloudy day, in the morning or early evening.
- Use natural light – whenever possible, opt for natural sunlight over turning on lights. Utilize bright rooms or take photos outdoors. All other light sources can leave your image with unnatural tints (green, yellow, blue)
- Time of day – you want softer natural light. Time photos for morning or dusk when natural lighting is softer. Avoid afternoon light on bright sunny days. Light diffused through cloud cover or trees works great
- Face the light – you want your photo subjects to face the light source – another reason to avoid bright, sunny days. Unless you are trying to capture silhouettes, you always want the light to be behind you as the photographer, not behind your subject
- Turn off your flash – flashes give harsh, fake light. If you follow the three lighting tips above, you won’t need one!
Make the most of your camera
You do not need a fancy, professional camera to take professional quality family photos. What matters more than the camera itself is your understanding of how to use it (and lighting – because it’s all about the lighting). An iPhone can take amazing photos – that will likely turn out better than what you can take with a DSLR you don’t know how to use.
That being said, learning how to really use your DSLR will give you true professional quality photos. With simple clicks of a button, you can adjust for lighting, focal point and get the blurred background, or bokah, characteristic of professional family photo shoots. All of my family photos are taken with my Canon Rebel T3i in manual mode with a fixed 50mm (commonly known as the Thrifty 50) or 60mm macro lens.
Ever try to take a posed picture of your kids? You tell them to smile, and they contort their face into something ridiculous that makes them look some combination of horrified, surprised and in pain? Stop trying to get everyone to look at the camera and say cheese.
Instead, let them be in their element. Put out a few simple toys – bubbles, sidewalk chalk, a ball or tricycle. Or put on some music, and let them dance around. Or just let them play, and grab your camera when they aren’t even paying attention. If you want them to look at the camera, call their name and ask them to tell you about their favorite things. It will get you eye contact and a natural, relaxed smile every time!
When I look at all the pictures in my files, hands down, my favorites are candids over any posed family photo shoot.
Stoop down to their level
When taking pictures of kids, you stand several feet taller than them – and so does the camera. To avoid unnatural shadows, you want to take family photos at eye level. For kids, this means getting down on the ground to get down to their eye level.
Take a test shot
I can take 200 photos during a family photo shoot and nearly every time, my favorite one is in the first 3-5 shots. At the beginning, everyone is more relaxed, more candid, and the element of surprise almost always works in your favor when photographing anyone, but especially with kids.
So, make sure your camera is set to capture those first few shots. Take a test shot – then, adjust for lighting, focal point, shutter speed all before you start actually taking the real photos.
Practice makes perfect
You can read your camera manual cover to cover, and countless photography tutorials – but there is no replacement to actually using your camera. Take photos – lots of them – everyday. Inside, outside, in different lights. Through practice you’ll get more comfortable with your camera, learn what parts of your house get the best light at what times of day, and how to get the best moments from your kids on camera.
Edit, brighten and print
Even professional photographers edit photos. And you can too. You can edit smartphone photos right on your phone – crop out unwanted background, make them square, brighten them, add filters to soften harsh light or sharpen focus. You can also use free online editing software like PicMonkey, Canva or BeFunky. Check out these 10 photo apps reviewed by Moms & Crafters for even more awesome ideas to take your family photo shoot results to the next level.
Once you are happy with your photos, you can print them just about anywhere for cents per print. Compared to the minimum $30+ packages for my kids’ school pictures staged on those awful blue backgrounds, it’s a no brainer. I am partial to blowing my favorites up to be printed on canvas – Canvas on Demand does an awesome job. Watch for regular sales to get them for a steal!
Shop the Post
Love the kids outfits? You can find them all in this year’s Shrimp and Grits Kids Spring 2017 collections. The girls are wearing the Sailor dress, which is perfect for monogramming, and Baby J is sporting Knotty Shorts and a Navy Striped Polo. I love that they can wear them all summer long for both a beachy and patriotic feel. All the clothes are machine washed and dried, formal enough for Sunday church, but comfortable enough for play. Check out the complete Shrimp and Grits Kids collections today!
These simple DIY photo tips firmly established me as the unofficial family photographer. It saves a ton of money – I no longer buy packages on school picture day or the professional photos for dance or team sports. And it lets me turn any occasion – from family holiday gatherings to an everyday outing to the playground – into a family photo shoot. The kids literally grow up before your very eyes – why not capture every moment!